Last week we announced that Sam D. & Ray East’s Voluspa – A Magical World is our Romance of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the Romance category: over 200 free titles, over 600 quality 99-centers, and thousands more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!
Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Romance excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded Voluspa – A Magical World, you’re in for a treat!
by Sam D, Ray East
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
“If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should – so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again”
– Charlotte Bronte.
The lines from ‘Jane Eyre’ played over and over in Amy’s head as she tried to block out the rude words the girls were whispering in the locker room. ‘Can you believe she did that?’ ‘Lost her senses,’ ‘How did she even think she would make the team?’ ‘She looks weirder every day,’ accompanied by sniggers, rolling of the eyes and open laughter summed up the range of reactions, Amy received for having the audacity to try out for the cheerleading team. She wanted to scream back at the voices, ask them why they had to be so mean but she knew that any such plea would fall on deaf ears. So instead Amy quickly pulled on her oversized sweatshirt as she forgo taking the prerequisite shower and willed herself to walk out of the locker room with some measure of dignity. She collected her backpack and ran down the dingy corridors of the Brooklyn high. Her sole purpose was to find some privacy where she could lick her wounds and regain some semblance of control before she faced the world again. Finding the door to the boiler room open, Amy slipped inside, finding a corner to huddle in. As she sat in the semi darkness of the boiler room, the heat radiating from the pipes swirled around her, forcing her to remove her sweatshirt. She looked down at her body clad in the t- shirt and shorts she had chosen in the school colors and self-loathing rose like thick bile – she hated her body. She was too tall for a fifteen year old, to add to that her skin was very pale, her thick mass of toffee colored hair did not cooperate enough for her to style it as per the current fashion dictates. Her body was slender but endowed with unwanted curves that made her stand out in a class, where the other girls her age barely filled out their sports bra. To make matters worse, her shy, reclusive personality did not endear her to the people around her.
She blinked back the tears clouding her big green eyes and fished into her backpack to take out her copy of ‘Jane Eyre’ – one of her all-time favorite books. She ran her hand lovingly over the well-worn hunter green book cover and flipped open the book. She loved this book not only because she could identify with the loneliness, misery and Jane’s early life but mostly because she couldn’t resist the happy ending the story promised. Amy could draw plenty of similarities between her and Jane’s life; like Jane she was an orphan, well almost anyway. Her mother had died when she was very young and she had no idea about her biological father, her only parent was Jo, a.k.a the neighborhood drunk – her stepdad. And also like Jane she was somewhat of a social outcast, possessing neither beauty nor monetary resources. She aspired to become strong like Jane, who could face adversaries, make the right choices though they may be difficult and finally find love, family and a sense of belonging. She put on her sweatshirt and headed in the direction of her next class. She refused to let a bunch of unkind girls make her cower and hide in fear. So she had made a fool of herself at the tryouts; big deal! Soon the local grapevine would be talking about something else.
Besides, Amy had gone through worse and every time she had found refuge in some book. She possessed an excellent imagination and a voracious appetite for books, these two factors often contributing to her flights of fantasy. Almost always she would get so absorbed in the plot or characters of the book that she would block out the reality and imagine herself as a part of the story. As a kid, the story of ‘The little match girl’ had always made her cry and later on at age eight, it had been ‘The little Princess’. She had imagined herself as the wronged Sara Crewe and instead of the father’s friend coming to the rescue; she used to hope that it was her biological father charging to saver her. A few years later it had been the ‘Anne of Green Gables’ books and she had secretly nursed fantasies of Joe dying or simply disappearing and her consecutively getting adopted into a loving family. Recently she had moved onto classics and found kindred spirits in characters like Jane from ‘Jane Eyre’ and Janie Crawford from ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’. But at the end of the day when the last page was read, reality would come rushing back and snatch away the comfortable blanket of imagination.
Over the years no matter how hard she had tried, her body and mind had often conspired together to put her in awkward situations. For instance today at the tryouts, she had been so excited about finally belonging to some clique in school that she had gotten over her initial shyness. She had practiced for hours, learning the routine and had even risked ridicule by showing up for the tryouts. And initially things had been working out, some of the girls had laughed to see her but coach had soon put an end to that and they had started practicing the fairly simple routine. A point came when Amy was supposed to give Kathy a boost up so that she could form the second level of the pyramid and that’s when disaster had struck. Somehow Amy had used a tiny bit extra force to lift Kathy and as a result Kathy bounced really high, tumbling against the others forming the pyramid. The whole structure had gone crashing down, with Kathy sustaining considerable injury. After that all hell had broken loose, the girls who had grudgingly accepted Amy’s presence had turned downright nasty and the coach bewildered by the strange turn of events had been no help.
Something similar had happened to her last year and the incident had left such a profound mark on Amy that even though a considerable time had passed, just thinking about the past incident made her break out in a sweat. It had all began with her silly crush on Matt, the cutest guy in her class. Normally, Amy avoided most of the kids in her class and vice versa. But Matt had been a new student and thus blissfully unaware of Amy’s reputation as the weirdest kid in the block. A week before the incident, Amy had bumped into Matt sending her own pile of books flying. Instead of the scorn or the pity that Amy usually received, Matt had flashed his pearly whites at her and helped her gather her belongings. Starved for affection, this simple act of kindness had bowled Amy over and she had fast developed a huge crush on Matt. And thus in a bid to garner Matt’s attention in gym class, Amy had gotten a little over enthusiastic during a game of volleyball and had finally ended up being the epicenter of disaster. Maybe she had hit the volleyball with a little extra vigor, but surely not hard enough to have the ball hit Marissa of the opposite team on the head. The ball had knocked Marissa out, finally shattering the glass door leading to the coach’s office outside the gym. Her team mates had stared in horror as the events unfolded and pretty soon the news had spread around the school like wildfire. So much so, that at the end of the day Matt had looked at her with a mixture of fear and disgust.
In short Amy was used to her body displaying sudden bouts of unexplainable physical strength and over the years she had plenty of practice in dealing with strange situations of her own making. Unexplainable physical strength sounds cool. Almost like super hero stuff but the reality of her life was so far from being any kind of cool that it was tragic. She could neither control nor predict the bouts of unnatural strength. Following the gym episode, coach had placed Amy on the volleyball school team, no doubt hoping that somehow her sudden infusion in physical strength would guarantee a sure victory against the other school teams. But even that small amount of satisfaction was to be denied to her – on the day of the game with Crossville High, Amy’s mystery spurt of strength completely deserted her and her performance was average at best. This disparity in performance promptly gave rise to rumors about drugs, sudden adrenalin rush, petty desire to hurt Marissa (a popular and pretty girl), intent to destroy school property etc. etc. And once again Amy found herself as the main topic of discussion of the school gossip mill.
Sudden physical strength was not her only cross to bear. As if life was not difficult enough, Amy had other abnormalities to cope with. She felt very strongly – pain, excitement, joy the whole gamut of emotions. Not the PMS has gone crazy kind, but somehow different and usually triggered by someone around her. She remembered the first time she had realized she was feeling something which she had no earthly cause to be experiencing. She had been seven and Mrs. Prentiss, a neighbor, had just lost her son in the war in Afghanistan. Although Mrs. Prentiss hadn’t ranted or raved or cried in Amy’s presence, for days Amy had felt her pain. It had been so intense that for a moment, Amy had looked at her own person to check if she had sustained an actual physical injury.
Catastrophe had struck when Amy had a similar episode in school. In the fourth grade, David Herman had a raptured appendix and Amy had doubled over in pain. As David had been rushed to the hospital, the other class mates had watched in amazement as Amy had all but rolled on the floor in agony. Their teacher Ms. Heather hadn’t been impressed and had frog marched her to the principal’s office. Apart from receiving a serious lecture on the depravity of making fun of someone’s illness, Amy had also received a weeks’ worth of detention. Her classmates hadn’t quite appreciated Amy’s bizarre behavior either and from that day Amy had received quite a few new names at school – ‘ freak’, ‘ attention hog’ and ‘weirdo’ were but a few of the names whispered behind her back. Even, Bessie Norman, her only friend since first grade had avoided her for days after the incident. Bessie and Amy had become friends rather by accident. Bessie lived with her parents in a nice rent controlled brownstone, a couple of blocks away from Amy. In first grade, Joe had bought Amy a winter coat from a garage sale. The coat had turned out to be one of Bessie’s older ones and Bessie had recognized the initials embroidered by her mother on the label of the coat. At school, when she had seen Amy’s larger frame squeezed into the faded purple garment, with all the innocence of childhood she had remarked ‘Hey no wonder that doesn’t fit you well, it used to be my coat.’ Even at the tender age, Amy had burned with embarrassment but when she had realized that the other girls remark had held no malice, the two had formed a somewhat one sided friendship. Bessie, a soft hearted girl had all but adopted Amy from that day, often sharing her lunches and trying to push past the walls Amy had erected around herself. Since then even though Amy and Bessie didn’t really hang out together all the time like best friends did or do stuff together; Amy knew that if nothing else there would always be at least one friendly face in the class – Bessie Norman was nothing if not kind.
Apart from offering herself up for scientific research, there was no earthly way of knowing why Amy was the way she was and so she had somehow learnt to cope with her hypersensitive emotional sensibilities and her physical anomalies. Her acceptance of her oddities did not mean she got used to being talked about or stared at and snubbed by almost all the kids at school and generally considered as the ‘freak’. ‘Maybe I would have coped better if I had a family to fall back on,’ Amy mused on her way back home from school. Home was a tiny shoebox sized apartment in a questionable part of Brooklyn which she shared with Joe. Sometimes in his rare lucid moments, Joe would talk about the semidetached house in Staten Island that they had lived in, when Amy’s mom had been alive and how nice it had been. Amy had no conscious memory of that house or her mother for that matter. The peeling linoleum on the kitchen floor, the big green lumpy sofa which also doubled as Joe’s bed, her small room which had one tiny window with bars on it, the smell of Chinese food that wafted in from the tiny restaurant below their apartment and permeated every corner of their small home. These were the things Amy was familiar with, things she had grown up with.
‘Joe…Joe …wake up, I need money for groceries,’ Amy tried to rouse the inebriated body of Joe as he lay sprawled on the sofa. After a few more attempts to wake him, Amy gave up and with an efficiency born out of years of practice; she quickly frisked him for change. Managing to retrieve two five dollar bills and a quarter and two dimes, Amy quickly tucked the change into her jeans pocket as she rushed out to get some food before she had to go for her part time job. Scouring through the apartment or Joe’s clothes for money was a daily occurrence for Amy- sometimes it was for lunch money, sometimes it was for grocery or sometimes it was for rent.
After getting a loaf of bread, milk, cereal, a small bag of potato chips and some cat food for Marmalade, Amy headed for the restaurant downstairs. Thrice a week, she worked at the Chinese restaurant downstairs, waiting on the tables. Mr. Li, the owner of the restaurant was a kind man who often kept a plate of food for Amy before she started her shift and today was no different. Amy quickly gobbled down the two egg rolls and the small bowl of soup that was leftover from the lunch buffet, slipped on her old pair of sneakers and got ready for dinner service. She was halfway through the dinner service when she was hit by a strong feeling of elation. There was a young couple occupying table six, the feeling of overflowing happiness was coming from them and as Amy served them food, she realized the couple were celebrating because they had just found out that the woman was having a baby. Their happiness was infectious and though they didn’t announce their news, Amy knew and that plastered a grin on her face for the rest of the evening.
That night as she curled up in bed with Marmalade, her pet tabby, she philosophized, ‘two sides of a coin’. On one hand, because of her strange afflictions she had a lousy day at school, but on the other hand because of the same abilities she had felt privileged for being privy to such joyful events in the life of two complete strangers. ‘I can get through middle school Slinky. Just have to hang in there and after high school I am going to get out of here. Go to college and build a great life for myself,’ she confided in her pet gecko, who stared back at her with its large orb like eyes. In a need to have a family, Amy had surrounded herself with quite a menagerie of stray animals – there was Marmalade-the one eared tabby she had rescued from a back alley, then there was Slinky-the gecko with a missing toe and finally Skipper-the obese and half blind hamster.
‘Come on. Two more days and summer vacations will start. You can get through two measly days,’ Amy urged herself as she dragged her tired body from the bed and started getting ready for school. Joe had returned really late last night and was still asleep; his prone form sprawled out on the couch. He was snoring softly and Amy could almost smell the fetid smell of alcohol emanating from him. It was a familiar smell. As a child, on the few occasions that Joe had hugged her or the nights that he had managed to get home in time to tuck her in, she would get this faintly sour and sharp smell. It was a smell which over the years she identified as a mixture of alcohol, greasy bar food and sweat and a smell she always associated with Joe. Past experiences had taught her that it would be unwise to wake him unless it was a life threatening situation. She tiptoed around the small apartment, fixing herself a bowl of cereal and getting dressed into another one of her baggy sweatshirts. After blowing her pets a kiss, she softly slipped out of the apartment, pulling the door shut behind her.
As Amy made her way to class, for some reason she felt distracted. On the periphery of her emotional consciousness she could sense someone’s sorrow; more like despair. Amy quickly scanned her surroundings to check if she could detect any distraught soul but came up with nada. The usual groups of students hanging around the car park, the usual stream of shuffling feet entering the class rooms , the efficient clip clops of the teachers shoes, the faint buzzing of the metal detector; nope nothing seemed out of the ordinary but Amy’s discomfort was rapidly increasing. She made a beeline for the restroom and for once finding it empty, heaved a sigh of relief. She splashed cool water over her face and wrists and tried to calm her nerves. Dread sat like lead at the bottom of her stomach and she felt jittery – she was sure something bad was going to happen. Maybe she was going to get expelled for one too many strange behaviors at school, she mused.
‘It’s going to be a long day!’ Amy sighed aloud as she stepped out of the relative sanctuary of the restroom and headed for her class. It was Mrs. Binns with history and the prospect of sitting through an hour of American civil war filled Amy with fresh agony but there was no getting out of it. Little did Amy know that respite would come in the form of such life changing news. Ten minutes into the history class and Miss Carol, the principal’s secretary came and pulled her out of the class and escorted her to the principals’ office. The obvious sympathy in Miss Carols and Principal Jenkins face confirmed her worst fears – something seriously was wrong.
‘I’m so sorry Amy. It’s your step father; he was taken ill while at work and was rushed to the hospital. You need to be there,’ Principal Jenkins said with finality.
Hours later, Amy was sitting staring at the blue walls of the hospitals reception room while slurping on her cherry soda. The verdict was not good; Joe had collapsed at the construction site, vomiting blood. Though the doctors were working on him, Amy had a feeling that Joe was not going to pull through. Her reverie was interrupted by the appearance of the doctor. Taking one look at the doctors grim face, Amy knew what was to come, she preempted the doctor by her bald statement – ‘ he didn’t make it.’ The doctor was a kindly looking man with thick black hair liberally peppered with silver and deep laugh lines grooved around his eyes and mouth. Amy blocked out whatever he was saying by indulging in her own fantasy which had this kindly looking man as her father, a house, a dog, a fat cat and a pretty mother who baked yummy goodies, helped her with homework and took her shopping every other day. A small flashlight flashing in front of her eyes and words like ‘catatonic’, ‘shock’, ‘poor dear’, forced Amy to snap out of her private fantasy. After assuring the people around her that she was fine or as fine as she could be under the circumstances and definitely did not need medical attention, Amy let the enormity of the situation sink in. The question uppermost in her mind was what was going to happen to her now? A solitary tear rolled down her cheeks and she quickly brushed it off. She would not cry for her step father, she would not cry for the man who had taken to the bottle at the death of his wife without a single regard for the infant daughter left in his care…she would not cry for a man who had always had enough money for more beers but never enough for groceries…she would not cry for the man who had ignored her for the most part of her life and at other times treated her as an unwanted burden. Despite her best efforts, more tears rolled down her cheeks and finally Amy decided it was ok, maybe just this once to cry. Cry for the loneliness that had surrounded her all her life. A deep void that Amy had tried so hard to fill, by adopting stray animals, by using her vivid imagination to paint pretty pictures of blissful family life in her head. But at the end of the day, pretend play and the company of a one eared cat, an old hamster and a gecko, were not enough to ward off the loneliness that had permeated every moment of her existence. Amy was assailed with an acute feeling of helplessness. She would be placed with a foster family now, in all likelihood she would not be allowed to take her pets along and the other kids at the foster home would definitely make fun of her quaint ways. Life in general was going to get much worse.
‘Hello Amy. I’m Ms. Maurya but you can call me Helen. I’m here to take you to your grandma’s house,’ said a gentle voice. ‘Now that we have introduced ourselves, do you want to go grab a bite to eat? The cafeteria downstairs is not great but they offer three different flavors of Jell-O and something tells me, you like Jell-O.’
Amy stared openmouthed. Ms. Maurya, Helen looked unlike any social worker Amy had ever imagined. For one she was dressed more like a gypsy fortune teller with her flowing skirt and peasant top than a social worker in a stuffy suit. She had a melodic voice and a kind smiling face. Her dark almost black hair fell on her back in an elaborate braid and her eyes were slightly tilted at the edges, giving her a rather exotic look. Drat! She had been so determined to hate the social worker but there was something about Ms. Maurya that made Amy glad for her presence. She felt a strange sense of calm enveloping her and felt that she could stop worrying finally, decisions had been made for her and for once she didn’t have to look out for herself- in short Helen made her feel safe. It was bizarre because she had known Helen for all of five minutes and Amy was not exactly the most trusting soul. Sitting across the table from Helen, Amy studied her face as she wolfed down a burger with fries and a bowl of orange Jell-O. Helen looked disturbingly familiar but for the life of her, she couldn’t remember where she had seen her before.
‘We can go back to your apartment and I can help you pack and sort out your stuff before we travel to your grandma’s tomorrow.’
‘You are taking me to my grandma’s?’
Helen raised an eyebrow in query, ‘do you have a problem with that?’
‘No I mean is that normal procedure? Aren’t you supposed to take me to a shelter for the night and fill out loads of paperwork before anything can be decided about my life?’
‘We could do it that way but I thought you would rather spend the night in your home and get a chance to say goodbye to your old life,’ Helen replied quietly.
Put like that, Amy did not know how to argue further without sounding like she actually wanted to spend the night in a strange place in a strange bed but she couldn’t quite get over the feeling that something was not as it should be.
Packing her meager belongings, Amy couldn’t shake off the feeling that she was being lulled into a false sense of security. Something was about to go wrong. At dinner, Amy found out that Helen had ordered a pizza. As the two sat munching on their pizza, Amy realized that this was the last meal she was ever going to eat in the apartment and although the last fifteen years had been difficult but it had been her home and suddenly she felt desolation swamp her.
During the two and a half hour flight to Atlanta, Amy drifted off to sleep. Amy switched on her cell after landing at Atlanta airport and saw the numerous voice mails and messages – some from Bessie and the rest from two unknown numbers. Listening to the voice mails made Amy’s blood run cold – apparently half of New York was searching for her, the social worker who was supposed to handle Amy’s case had arrived a few minutes late to the hospital only to find Amy already gone. She had been told by a nurse that Amy had left with her best friend’s mother. The pandemonium had started when the social worker had tracked down Bessie’s house and landed there in the morning with a cop, only to find Bessie and her family completely ignorant of Amy’s whereabouts. Lugging at her big suitcase behind her, Amy surreptitiously glanced at Helen from under her lashes. She racked her brain to try and remember if Helen had actually claimed to be a social worker or had she at any point shown her any credentials. Shaking her head as if to clear the cobwebs, Amy felt a chill run down her spine as she was ushered into the rental car by Helen.
Who the hell was Helen? Finally Amy could not contain her anguish any longer; she looked Helen in the eye and blurted out, ‘ Who are you?’
‘You know who I am Amy,’ replied Helen calmly.
‘You are no social worker. Pull over!’ demanded Amy.
‘I never said I was,’ replied Helen as she took an exit and parked the car at a gas station.
‘Who the hell are you then?’
‘For now you could say I am a friend of the family but if you want to get specific about it, I was your mother’s friend.’
‘Where are you taking me?’
‘Now you are being silly Amy, I’m taking you to your grandma’ to live with her. In fact why don’t you call her and tell her that we will be there in a couple of hours.’
Somewhat assured, Amy punched in the number and heard her grandma’ voice for the first time in a year.
‘Grandma its Amy… I’m travelling with Ms. Maurya…Helen…mom’s friend?’
‘Amy …It’s good to hear your voice. Are you in Georgia? Yes… Helen kindly offered to accompany you from NY…dear girl I know how difficult all this must be for you…I would have gone to get you if I could but ….anyway you are in good hands and we’ll see each other soon…’
It was almost evening when they entered the town of Midway, a small southern town near Savannah. Driving through a road canopied by live oak trees covered in Spanish moss, they finally reached an old rambling colonial farmhouse. The house was not exactly dilapidated but it had an air of neglect about it. It still was a huge upgrade from her two roomed rent control apartment, reasoned Amy. As she stood outside the car, taking in her new home, the front door opened and out stepped a lady clad in a pale blue cotton shirt and white linen pants. Amy drew in a sharp breath as she really looked at her grandma, even in her seventies grandma had to be one of the most beautiful woman she had ever seen with her silver hair in soft curls framing her face , clear blue eyes, skin that was almost luminous sans wrinkles and a petite frame. There was an aura of serenity and compassion about her that made Amy want to run up to her and embrace her tight; to pour out her heart to her knowing that no matter what she told this woman, she would always understand.
For the last decade or so, her only interaction with her grandma had been the occasional phone calls and a greeting card along with a fifty dollar bill for Amy’s birthday. For the first time in her life Amy realized that it was a little strange for a woman, someone so kind and inherently nice, not to have tried to establish a bond with her only grandchild, especially since the child’s mother was no more. Pushing aside her misgivings, Amy walked up to greet the woman who was now her only family in the world.
‘Let me show you to your room Amy,’ said grandma as she followed Amy inside the house. The inside of the house was shabby but neat. The furniture, a mish mash of traditional and country, had seen better days. The floral curtains had been through one too many washes and the rug was not too far from being threadbare. But everything was scrupulously clean and personal knick knacks, family photos and colorful throws and cushions gave a homey and cozy feel. Her room was not too different – a narrow bed was stashed in one corner covered in a patchwork quilt in shades of yellow and russet, similar colored curtains framed the large window which looked out to an enormous oak tree, its branches almost touching the house.
‘Do you think all your stuff will fit in this room or we could shift you to another room tomorrow morning? I chose this room because it gets a lot of morning light and is farthest from my own room. I’m not too old to realize that a young girl like you would probably want some privacy.’
‘It’s fine. As long as I can make space for my hamster, fish and gecko, I’ll be fine. Marmalade, my cat likes to curl up in the bed with me.’
With a wistful smile grandma said ‘your mother was the same; had a soft spot for animals. Forever bringing home strays; we even had a raccoon at one point.’
Amy took in that piece of tidbit. With her stepdad, talking about mom had been pretty much forbidden. As a result Amy hardly knew anything about her mom.
‘Was this mom’s room?’ she couldn’t help asking.
‘No, her room still has a lot of her old stuff in it. I didn’t want to throw anything away, you can look through them tomorrow if you wish,’ grandma answered. ‘Now if you need something just holler, I’ll be down in the kitchen having a word with Helen. Come down whenever you are ready and I’ll fix you something to eat.’
Amy nodded distractedly, her mind already thinking about exploring her mother’s belongings. After a quick wash up, Amy decided to venture downstairs and rumblings in her tummy were telling her to find the kitchen. Walking down the corridor, she could hear her Grandma and Helen having a conversation in a hushed tone. Curiosity getting the better of her, she stood in the hallway, right at the mouth of the stairs leading down to the kitchen, straining her ears to catch the conversation – something told Amy that they were talking about her.
‘She is not ready yet Helen.’
‘But she can be……..’
‘Enough. Now is not the time for this discussion…we don’t even know if…’
Intent on catching every word being said in the kitchen, Amy had leaned a little too close to the edge of the stairs and before she could right herself , she toppled over and felt the stairs rush up to meet her. After a few agonizing moments, she landed with a nasty thud at the bottom of the stairs. Grandma and Helen were instantly at her side, her leg was turned at an awkward angle and the pain was already following the shock, but what bothered most was the quiet look of understanding that grandma gave her – it was almost as if grandma could look deep into her soul and knew exactly what Amy had been up to. As Helen and grandma helped Amy onto the nearest couch, Amy felt about two inches tall and like a kid caught with her hand in the cookie jar.
‘Here take these; it’ll help with the pain,’ said grandma as she gave Amy two small pills and a glass of water. Her grandma hardly looked worried as if breaking a bone was tantamount to getting a small scratch. The pills grandma gave her were beginning to make her feel a little dizzy, combined with the stress of the past few days, Amy suddenly felt tired to her bones. Tucked up with a blanket on the big squishy couch, she could barely keep her eyes from drooping shut. Before she succumbed to the sweet pleasure of slumber, the last thought running in her head was that although Helen had an ice pack pressed on her leg, her leg felt all warm and tingly, and the pain almost a distant memory.
Sunlight streamed in through the windows, rendering the furniture and walls a glorious sundrenched, golden hue. Amy blinked as she took in the unfamiliar room, for a moment she could not comprehend why she was not in her Brooklyn apartment bedroom with peeling paint and mismatched furniture. A minute later it all came rushing back – her father’s inert body as it lay unmoving on the hospital bed, the big bulky man and object of Amy’s abject fear somehow diminished and rendered insignificant. Helen with her caring attitude, Grandma, the house, her accident …Oh god her leg… She pushed the blanket aside to take a look at her poor leg but her leg looked fine and as she flexed it there was not even a twinge of pain. But how could this be, even if she had sprained her leg, it couldn’t have possibly healed overnight.
Bursting with questions, she followed the appetizing smell of freshly baked biscuits and eggs to the kitchen.
‘There you are. You must be very hungry since you slept through dinner. Sit down and tuck in. You look like you could do with a few home cooked meals,’ said grandma as she placed a plate piled high with scrambled eggs, a thick slice of country ham, fresh biscuits that were still warm to touch, gravy and a bowl of grits. Mesmerized by the veritable feast in front of her, Amy was torn between the desire to eat and ask questions.
‘Eat before it all gets cold. We can talk after that.’ Once again it felt like she was an open book which grandma had no trouble reading.
Once her hunger was satisfied Amy wanted some answers.
‘Where is Helen? Why haven’t you asked about my leg? Why didn’t you visit me in New York? Why did you leave me alone with him? I could have stayed with you. All these years; didn’t you care?’ Amy sobbed out the last question. Ensconced in this warm kitchen, for once her belly full of food, Amy felt stupid tears burning in her eyes. It was as if the few hours of kindness and the semblance of a normal home life had torn open the scab that had covered years of hurt and neglect – suddenly she felt vulnerable.
Grandma’s face crumpled in genuine distress and she flinched back in pain, as if she was privy to every hurtful accusations Amy wanted to throw at her.
‘I’ll try and answer your questions as best as I can but I want you to trust me when I say I never stopped caring for you. Not even for a moment. There are things that I can’t tell you right now. I know it’s not fair and you deserve some answers but that’s the best I can do at this time. After losing your mother, there was nothing more I wanted than to bring you back with me.’
‘Why didn’t you then?’ challenged Amy.
‘I stayed away because I thought I was protecting you.’
‘Protecting me!’ exploded Amy. ‘That doesn’t make any sense. Who were you protecting me from? Why can’t you tell me the truth?’
Grandma shook her head sadly, ‘I can’t answer that. I’m sorry Amy; someday you will understand but till then can you try and trust me?’ beseeched grandma.
Why the blatant disregard for my health, wondered Amy as she realized that she was angry at grandma for not having made any fuss about her leg. It felt strange to her. Broken bones deserved some concern, even if they healed unnaturally fast. ‘Where is Helen, I wanted to talk to…to thank her,’ Amy amended hastily.
Grandma sighed and looked at her, ‘Last night Helen and I carried you up to your room and then she had to leave – go back to her home.’
‘Now, I thought you could spend the day exploring your mother’s things. I couldn’t help but notice that you didn’t bring much stuff with you. We could spend the day shopping if you wish.’
‘I’d like to look at my mother’s things if that’s ok; I feel I hardly know anything about her,’ Amy said ruefully. ‘I’d love to go shopping tomorrow if you can spare the time,’ she hastily added, reluctant to pass up the generous offer of supplementing her meager wardrobe. Hiding a knowing smile, grandma said, ‘Come, I’ll show you where your mom slept for the first decade of her life.’
The room had pale lavender walls and pretty white furniture almost like the ones in her previous room. There were framed pictures of various pets and even a poster of Aerosmith gracing the walls. Amy was so engrossed that she did not even realize when grandma left her to it, softly closing the door behind her. There was a wooden rocking horse, obviously from her mom’s earlier years, a music box which when cranked up still played a faint nostalgic tune, the dresser drawers still held her mom’s clothes. Tucked in the corner of the drawer was a one eared teddy bear, a childhood toy lovingly kept. The dresser had a lava lamp, Pom Poms and some cheap costume jewelry strewn all over it – bangles and chunky earrings. There was also a white wicker bookshelf, slightly lopsided, groaning under the weight of the dozens of books crammed in it. So her mother too had liked to read, Amy mused as she picked up a copy of ‘The Wasteland’. Brushing away a few cobwebs, Amy cranked open the closet door. Apart from the usual clothes, a cheerleading costume, there was a small metal trunk tucked in a corner – the enamel paint was chipped in places and the color was a bright pink (at least that was what it must have been before the layers of dust had settled on it). Two small initials scratched onto the bottom left corner of the lid caught Amy’s eyes. The initials B. S. were that of her mothers. With a little effort, Amy pried the rusty lid open and was immediately assailed by the smell of potpourri and lavender. There was an odd collection of things. A huge leather bound book, a beautiful lace scarf (the lace was now yellow and fragile), a blue baby blanket – maybe mother had surprised her parents when they had been expecting a boy, a small box which contained a very ornate looking ring and a beautiful floral crown. For some reason, Amy felt like she was prying into something very personal and private. So choosing the least personal of the items, the book titled ‘Legends of Voluspa’, Amy kept the rest back.